Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

You know it’s getting close to Christmas when you hear the carol lyrics about making a list and checking it twice.

In the produce aisle you know by now that I’m all about lists, be it holiday time or not. Lists for rotation needs, lists for merchandising changes, for sanitation duties. I can’t help it. Besides scratching out clever limericks in high school to try to impress the ever-elusive Mary Beth McSlurp, produce lists were my first writing experience.

Years later as a produce manager, making lists was a lesson I emphasized to new clerks.

I turned them loose after a few stocking training sessions.

“Stay on this potato and onion table,” I said. “Estimate what you’ll need, load up a cart and get to work.”

I counted on the new clerk over- or underestimating what they might need. Many times they “forgot” a case of one item or another and had to make numerous trips to the back room.

(This bit of forgetfulness isn’t isolated to new clerks, mind you. In fact as I get older this malady gets worse with each passing year. I go to the store for eggs and bring home all sorts of groceries — except, of course, the eggs.)

I tried to catch the clerk hustling out to their cart as they hand-carried the extra carton of potatoes, case of garlic or whatever they miscalculated. As they set it down, out of breath, I explained that running back and forth to the back room was a real time-waster.

“It’s also hard on your body lugging heavy cases of produce so far.”

Write it down or you’ll do the one-case shuffleAt the time our school-supply section stocked little note pads with Mickey Mouse characters on the cover. I took one out of my pocket and in my best falsetto Mickey imitation, advised them to listen to Mickey and start writing down what they need before they ran themselves ragged.

As someone who routinely wanders into my garage only to wonder why I went out there go get, I advised the clerks in the same vein.

“It’s easy to forget or to have a customer flag you down on the way to the back to ask assistance for something. In those few seconds the memory list fades. Next thing you know, you’re doing the one-case shuffle.”

That isn’t a dance you want to get accustomed to, right?

From that point on, carrying the little Mickey Mouse notepad became as much a part of their routine as anything. It’s good for jotting down not only lists of items they need but ideas or notes that come to mind as they work. The simple notepad is to clerks what planners are to executives.

In both cases, they save the day.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.

armandlobato@comcast.net

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